All-American: A2SO presents ‘Made in the USA’

Michael Daugherty (Courtesy photo)

Michael Daugherty (Courtesy photo)

Susan Isaacs Nisbett
(Ann Arbor, Oct.11, 2014)

Arie Lipsky, music director of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, is a man on the move. Literally.

“I’m just dusty and trying to remember what I put where,” he said by phone recently from what, by the time you read this, will be his former home in Buffalo, N.Y.

He was keeping precious scores close as the movers packed the family – Lipsky, his wife, Rachel; and daughter, Inbal — for their new home in Ann Arbor, where they are relocating as Lipsky swings into his 15th year at the helm of the A2SO.

“I think it will take a couple of months to get rid of all these boxes,” he said. “So if I need something in the next three months, I’m putting it in a place I can get it. I want to make sure my scores stay within my reach and don’t end up on Route 66.”

Lipsky is using “Route 66” as a metaphor for far from Ann Arbor, but that iconic American road is on the tip of his tongue for another reason: it’s the title of a work on “Made in the USA,” the mainstage concert that comes up presto (as in Saturday, Oct. 11) after Lipsky hits Ann Arbor running Oct. 2. (Lipsky also conducts the orchestra’s family concert, “Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage,” Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Michigan Theater: Wednesday, he heads overseas to conduct in Israel.)

In addition to “Route 66,” by Ann Arbor-based composer Michael Daugherty, Saturday’s Michigan Theater program celebrates American music with Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” (featuring the Boychoir of Ann Arbor and the Vocal Arts Ensemble); the Barber Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Joan Kwuon); and Gershwin’s beloved tone poem “An American in Paris.”

Rich in internationally known composers and performers, Ann Arbor often reaps the bounty of their presence on a local level. Daugherty, for example, will work with the A2SO as it rehearses “Route 66.”

“That sort of input is so important,” Lipsky said. “It’s so rare to work with living composers, and he’s known to be one of the most performed living composers in the world. We’re just so lucky to have him around, and he happens to be in town this time.”

The pleasure, said Daugherty in a recent e-mail, is all his.

“I am someone who loves to get involved in the community where I reside,” said Daugherty, who has taught at the University of Michigan since 1991. He didn’t waste any time getting involved with local ensembles.

“Since 1991, I have had the opportunity to compose new works for the University of MIchigan Symphony Band, the Ann Arbor High School Bands, Slauson Middle School, Ann Arbor Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Chamber Winds.”

Saturday’s A2SO concert is hardly the first to have a Daugherty work on the program. Over the years, the orchestra has premiered his organ concerto and flute concerto; played his violin concerto; and a number of his orchestral pieces.

“I try to schedule one of his pieces every few years,” Lipsky said.

That’s fine with A2SO audiences, who appreciate the way Daugherty’s music incorporates American popular culture and vernacular styles.

And how, really, could anyone resist a piece like “Route 66,” where the tuba plays the role of traffic cop at the lone stoplight?

No one does.

In fact, said Daugherty, “’Route 66’ has become one of my most performed orchestral works. I love to take road trips, and ‘Route 66’ is the ultimate Americana rite of passage. While most of the original Route 66 has disappeared, the memories linger on.

“It is hard to believe that I composed Route 66 around 15 years ago. I have developed a great relationship over the years with the Ann Arbor Symphony, and I am thrilled that they have been performing my music frequently over the years. I look forward to working with them on what should be a great concert!!”

It’s not too much of a stretch to think of this “Made in the USA” concert as a road trip through the American musical landscape.

On Saturday, the Daugherty piece, composed in 1999 for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, is the last stop, chronologically, on the adventure.

The first is Gershwin’s 1928 “An American in Paris,” a much-adored tone poem that Lipsky calls “a beautiful collage of American music with some Parisian effects.” While Gershwin did not make scene indications in the score itself, as some other composers of tone poems do, he had a story in mind – one that’s easy to follow as his American visitor to the City of Lights saunters the boulevards, drops in to a café, feels blue (to the blues) and revives to enjoy the city’s vivacity, honking taxis included.

The next stop on the Mother Road of American music is the Barber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, from 1939. If the Gershwin is, as Lipsky put it, “probably the top of the list of American tone poems,” the Barber violin concerto, he said, “is “perhaps the only American violin concerto to join the exclusive list of top violin concertos.”

Unlike the Gershwin, which sounds so American, the American qualities of the Barber take a while to make themselves heard, Lipsky said.

“In a way, Barber is so ecumenical and cosmopolitan here that it’s only every once in a while, where you hear a little jazzy motif here or there, or in the last movement, where you say, ‘OK, you cannot hear that from a European.’ It takes some time to appreciate that.”

Lipsky has conducted violin soloist Kwuon in other concertos, and he is excited to bring her to Ann Arbor for her first appearance with the A2SO. Kwuon’s list of credits include appearances with many of the world’s great orchestras. She couples a busy concert career with teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Perhaps the least frequently performed work on the program comes from one of America’s best known names in classical and theater music, Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” composed for the 1965 choral festival at the Cathedral of Chichester in Sussex, England, opens Saturday’s concert.

Lipksy calls it his favorite piece by Bernstein. “The message is quite ecumenical,” said Lipsky, “combining Hebrew and Christian choral traditions together.”

The music is alluring – it comes after a period where Bernstein was experimenting with 12-tone music only to return to tonality (“The ‘West Side Story’ in him comes out full-fledged here,” Lipsky said; “he can’t help it.”). And its prayer for peace as relevant today as in the mid-‘60s. But it’s still a piece that’s more notable for its absence from concert halls than its presence.

Why?

”It’s exceedingly difficult,” Lipsky said.

He can count the ways: the emphasis on the No. 7, important in Hebrew numerology but hard as a musical interval to be sung or as a meter – like 7/4 time (Oy!); the need for a terrific boy soprano (Lipsky found four terrific candidates among the Boychoir’s members and settled on Francesco Van Bulow) as well as a good boychoir and other choral forces.

So as Lipsky makes the move to Ann Arbor as resident after all the years of commuting, he’s more grateful than ever for the resources that he’s been so fond of highlighting in the town he’ll now call home.

”Made in the USA”

    • Who: The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, with violin soloist Joan Kwuon; the Boychoir of Ann Arbor; and the Vocal Arts Ensemble
    • What: “Made in the USA,” a program of American music by Barber, Bernstein, Daugherty and Gershwin.
    • Where: The Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St.
    • When: Saturday, 8 p.m. Pre-concert lecture for ticket holders at 7 p.m.
      Pre-concert all-American Barbecue Dinner, catered by Zingerman’s Roadhouse, at the Michigan Theater at 5:30 p.m. Michael Daugherty will speak. Tickets, $25, cap of 100 people. Call the A2SO for information, (734-994-4801.
    • How much: $15-$62, by phone to the A2SO, (734) 994-4801, and online at a2so.com. Many discounts for seniors, students and groups.

Read the original article at MLive

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